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If Beale Street Could Talk - Movie Review

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If Beale Street Could Talk - Movie Review

Long thought untouchable for theatrical adaptation due to its tenuous structure and ethereal nature, author James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk gets the big screen treatment from Moonlight writer/director Barry Jenkins. And what a perfect combination as the film is a beautifully realized adaptation that preserves Baldwin’s raw humanism and communal purpose, yet feels as if it has Jenkins’ hand all over it.

The film is the story of young 1970’s African-American couple Tish (Kiki Layne in her debut role) and Fonny (Stephan James, Selma) who have been friends and soul mates since the early days of their childhood growing up in Harlem and have recently begun to realize how deeply and emotionally connected they are to one another. Facing an uncertain future together, the couple must not only find a way to bask in the glow of newfound love, but at the same time, navigate the treacherous waters of family acceptance as they plan to inform their families of the baby that is on the way.

"a delicious and delectable love story with the kind of chemistry from its two leads that few filmmakers manage to capture."


In one particularly heartbreaking scene (one of many to come) we watch Tish inform Fonny of her pregnancy through the glass of a prison visitation booth. We eventually learn that Fonny was wrongfully accused of the rape of a young hispanic woman named Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios) who picked Fonny out of a police line-up. Fonny’s trial is repeatedly postponed after his accuser flees the country. But meanwhile, Tish’s mother Sharon (Regina King) is determined to get her future son-in-law exonerated even if it means traveling to Puerto Rico where she hopes to convince Fonny’s accuser to return to the states.

Staying true to Baldwin’s novel, much of the story is told from a female perspective, specifically that of Tish, via flashback, and often with voice-over narration that pulls direct quotes from Baldwin’s eloquent prose. Though not a particularly unique technique, it is an interesting narrative structure and, as handled by Jenkins, is a perfectly-executed approach to making the film his own, while at the same time honoring the legacy of Baldwin’s source material. Additionally, the unique structure allows for important contextual details that would otherwise be quite difficult to explain.

Jenkins keeps the past and present neatly compartmentalized by a briskly-paced timeline in the flashbacks while slowly revealing the present with long, silent, deliberate shots that allow us to savor the details of the love story as the plot inches methodically forward.

Whereas many directors often never quite succeed with flashbacks and fractured timelines, the technique becomes Jenkins’ strongest attribute here and gives the film a style and verve all its own. Additionally, whereas with most films, this snail-paced plot reveal might come off as stodgy heavy-handedness, in the hands of Jenkins, we relish the exposition like an award-winning pitmaster peeling back the foil on a perfectly-braised rack of spare ribs. It is a delicious and delectable love story with the kind of chemistry from its two leads that few filmmakers manage to capture. As a result, If Beale Street Could Talk provides a vividly illustrated look at not only the raw power of young love, but young black love that gives those of us outside the black experience a chance to feel it virtually first hand. I promise, these are some of the hottest love scenes you’ll see on film this year.

If Beale Street Could Talk - Movie Review

Praise must also be given to the wonderful cinematography of Jenkins’ go-to DP James Paxton whose picturesque anamorphic wide angles and perfectly framed close-ups emphasize the facial expressions of characters as imperfect as ourselves yet who are painted in broad strokes of familiar human emotion from a color palette that pays caring homage to the 70s setting. As a result, rather than simply seeing the film, we feel it.

With If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins has created first and foremost a mesmerizing love story that is both simple and eloquent. But we are quickly learning that simple is never enough for this fascinating filmmaker. Beale Street uncovers a compelling yet complicated irony buried within our sudden realization that such pure and perfect love can come from such an impure world. If we come away with nothing else from the film, hopefully we have all gained a better understanding of the people, things, and relationships that make African-Americans endure the daily hardships that come from simply being black.

5 stars

If Beale Street Could Talk - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Runtime:
119 mins
Director
: Barry Jenkins
Writer:
Barry Jenkins
Cast:
R for language and some sexual content
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
Trust Love All the Way.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I've never been more ready for this than anything in my whole life."
Theatrical Distributor:
Annapurna Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 14, 2018
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: A woman in Harlem desperately scrambles to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime while carrying their first child.

If Beale Street Could Talk - Movie Review

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Blu-ray Details:

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If Beale Street Could Talk - Movie Review

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